Ade­sanya finds in­spi­ra­tion in Africa

Nelson Mail - - Sport - Mat Ker­meen mat.ker­[email protected]

Is­rael Ade­sanya wants to ‘‘take the gold back to Africa’’ but that doesn’t mean he is di­min­ish­ing his al­le­giance to New Zealand.

The Nige­rian-born UFC star, who took up mixed mar­tial arts (MMA) af­ter mov­ing to New Zealand when he was 13, of­ten has his al­le­giances ques­tioned but main­tains he is just as pa­tri­otic about both coun­tries.

Ade­sanya, aka ‘The Last Styleben­der’, has and will con­tinue to go to work in fa­mous fight cities all over the globe but there are two venues he is push­ing the UFC to get to in the near fu­ture.

Be­fore he takes the gold – in the form of a UFC ti­tle belt – back to Africa, Ade­sanya, who is un­de­feated in MMA with a 16-0 record and 5-0 in the UFC, first needs to beat Kelvin Gastelum (15-3) to lift the in­terim mid­dleweight belt at UFC 236 in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, to­mor­row.

And sec­ondly, if he does win his first UFC belt at the week­end, the 29-year-old will likely face Kiwi-born Aus­tralian Robert Whit­taker – the UFC mid­dleweight cham­pion – in a uni­fi­ca­tion fight.

That fight is tipped to take place in Aus­tralia, even Ade­sanya con­cedes that.

In an ideal world, Ade­sanya wants to take both belts to Africa and on the same card as Nige­ria’s first UFC cham­pion Ka­maru Us­man.

‘‘Through­out his­tory, they just keep tak­ing and tak­ing and tak­ing from Africa so it’s time me and Ka­maru to take gold back to Africa,’’ Ade­sanya said.

If Ade­sanya wins his next two fights, it would mean the only two African cham­pi­ons in UFC his­tory fight­ing on the same night.

Us­man, who won the UFC wel­ter­weight ti­tle in Las Ve­gas last month when he de­throned Amer­i­can Ty­ron Wood­ley, moved to the United States when he was seven.

‘‘Imag­ine that, two young Nige­rian boys who up­rooted from Africa to look for a bet­ter way of life and then to go back to show the suc­cess we’ve had, I think that would be mas­sive and in­spire a lot of peo­ple,’’ Ade­sanya said.

‘‘Go­ing through ad­ver­sity in an­other land and then go­ing back to show the fruits of our labour . . . I think it would be pow­er­ful.’’

Like Ade­sanya, Us­man is also un­beaten in the UFC and there are many other African fight­ers com­ing up through the UFC ranks.

Ade­sanya wants to show young chil­dren in Africa that they don’t have to play foot­ball or bas­ket­ball to make some­thing of them­selves. He wants to in­spire them to be good at what­ever path they choose in life.

But for all the talk about his birth coun­try, Ade­sanya, who trains out of City Kick­box­ing in Auck­land, is equally as pas­sion­ate about New Zealand.

‘‘But 100 per cent I’ll be back fight­ing there soon,’’ Ade­sanya said.

‘‘I’m still go­ing to lobby for this ti­tle fight [against Whit­taker] pos­si­bly to be in New Zealand but I know they’ll want to push it in Aus­tralia.

‘‘If not, my first ti­tle de­fence should be in Auck­land,’’ he said.

The UFC has pub­licly stated that a re­turn to Auck­land – where it has hosted two shows since 2014 – is on its radar but the time­frame re­mains un­known.

With Ade­sanya’s City Kick­box­ing team­mates Dan Hooker, Kai Kara-France and Shane Young all es­tab­lished in the UFC, a card that would cap­ture world­wide at­ten­tion is pos­si­ble de­spite New Zealand be­ing one of the UFC’s small­est com­mer­cial mar­kets.

The Ade­sanya v Gastelum ti­tle fight is the first of two in­terim ti­tle fights on the At­lanta card with the main event be­ing for the light­weight ti­tle be­tween UFC feath­er­weight cham­pion Max Hol­loway (20-3) and No 3-ranked light­weight Dustin Poirier (24-5).

The winner is likely to get a shot at UFC light­weight cham­pion and Conor McGre­gor con­queror Khabib Nur­magome­dov.

‘‘Go­ing through ad­ver­sity in an­other land and then go­ing back to show the fruits of our labour . . . I think it would be pow­er­ful.’’ Is­rael Ade­sanya

PHOTOSPORT

Ris­ing Kiwi star Is­rael Ade­sanya will fight for a UFC belt in just his sixth fight in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, to­mor­row.

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